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Gazette Premium Content TOWN HALL: Obama shrunk aerial firefighting fleet (poll)

WAYNE LAUGESEN Updated: June 26, 2012 at 12:00 am

As fire rages out of control on the edge of Colorado Springs, threatening lives and property, it is time we listen to those who have warned us about the negative effect environmentalists and President Barack Obama have had on the federal government’s ability to fight fires.

Much of what’s burning is the Pike National Forest, which is federal property. Yet it took almost three days to get federal fire fighting aircraft off the ground to begin dumping meaningful loads of slurry to slow the fire’s growth. Because the Forest Service has a shortage of planes, Air Force C-130s finally joined the effort Monday afternoon to battle a fire that began Saturday morning.

Part of the problem is red tape and vague policy regarding use of military aircraft to put out fires, even when they burn federal property. Part of it involves intentional interference with aerial fire suppression. Part of the problem is the Obama administration.

Environmentalists have fought the use of slurry for years, which may or may not explain why Obama seems to lack enthusiasm for a robust tanker fleet. Environmentalists sued to stop the use of fire retardant after it killed 50 steelhead trout in the Santa Ynez River near Santa Barbara, Calif., in 2009. An earlier lawsuit involved the accidental dumping of between 1,000 and 2,000 gallons of fire retardant into Oregon’s Fall River in 2002, a mistake that killed all fish in the river. That mishap involved a slurry formula that is no longer used.

As a result of the most recent lawsuit, the Forest Service adopted rules that prevent dropping slurry within 300 feet of streams and lakes except when human lives are at risk. Forest officials say the rules won’t harm firefighting efforts.

We hope that is true. Even if it is, we know that a shortage of planes to drop retardants most certainly hinders firefighting throughout the country. That’s common sense.

Former Gazette editorial page editor Sean Paige confronts “the Green threat to our economy, property and freedoms” on his website MonkeyWrenchingAmerica.com. Just days before the Waldo Canyon fire began, Paige explained how the Obama administration is doing an election-year scramble to get the U.S. Forest Service the air support it needs to battle what promises to be an explosive wildfire season.

“Less than a year ago, the same administration seemed to be doing its best to leave the Forest Service ill-equipped to deal with the mounting wildfire threat, by summarily cancelling a contract with a company that furnished roughly one third of the wildfire-fighting tankers in the agency’s already-depleted fleet. That action might loom large as calls mount for an investigation into why the agency’s air assets seem inadequate to meet the threat.”

Washington-based Human Events magazine reported in September of 2011 that nearly half of the federal government’s air tankers sat idle at a California airport, as wildfires ripped through national forests throughout California, Texas, New Mexico, and other states.

It turns out the Obama administration ended a long-standing contract, leaving the Forest Service with only 11 tankers to battle 50 wildfires that were burning nationwide. A decade ago, the Forest Service had 40 firefighting tankers.

The Obama administration canceled the government’s contract with Aero Union — a company with 60 employees that had been under contract with the Forest Service for 50 years. Though it canceled that contract, the administration had no plan for an immediate replacement. Aero Union CEO Britt Gourley told Human Events the administration provided no details on why the contract was ended.

“They didn’t want to talk about it,” Gourley said of Obama administration officials.

 A Forest Service official said the contract was cancelled over safety concerns, but the company had recently passed its annual inspection.

We can try connecting dots and presume the Obama administration is more enthused with environmental activism than effective fire suppression. That would be speculation, as it is impossible to know any person’s true motive. We know for sure that our country’s fleet of firefighting aircraft has diminished during Obama’s reign. Meanwhile, fires are igniting all over Colorado, far exceeding government’s ability to quickly contain them.

That's our view, so what's yours? Please begin or contribute to a Facebook discussion below this article, and vote in the poll to the upper right of here.

Friend editorial page editor Wayne Laugesen on Facebook, follow him on Twitter

Must-see-daily site: Complete Colorado

Read Michelle Malkin's take on this issue

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